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Heat warnings, special weather statements issued for Western Canada

Heat advisories return

Environment Canada has issued heat warnings and special weather statements as unseasonable temperatures return to parts of British Columbia and the Prairies.

Heat warnings call for temperatures in the low to mid-30s for southern Alberta and southwestern Manitoba and nudging to 40 C in areas of southern Saskatchewan, before easing slightly later in the week.

Special weather statements are posted across most of southern B.C. and Vancouver Island, but Environment Canada says they could be upgraded to warnings as conditions peak between Wednesday and Saturday.

Heat in the mid- to high-30s is expected with the highest temperatures slated for Thompson-Okanagan, the southern Kootenays and Fraser Canyon — all areas where aggressive wildfires continue to burn.

Forecasters say conditions will not be as hot as late June, when temperature records shattered across Western Canada and the B.C. coroner determined sweltering conditions caused hundreds of deaths.

Wildfire smoke has also led to air quality advisories for most of southern B.C., southwestern Alberta and a large part of Manitoba, prompting a warning for seniors, young children and anyone with heart or lung conditions to avoid exposure.



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Wildfire service expands area restriction at Octopus fire near Fauquier

Area closure broadens

An area restriction in effect for the Octopus Creek wildfire near Fauquier has been widened.

The restriction reflects the continued need to protect the public in areas where ongoing fire suppression activities are taking place, the BC Wildfire Service said in an update Monday night.

The orders apply to Crown land from the bottom of Van Houten Creek following Van Houten Creek to Mista
Peak, then following the height of land north through Mount Shardelow, Hilda Peak to Mount McBride, then down Heart Creek to Lower Arrow Lake. Finally, south along the east shore of Lower Arrow Lake.

Failure to comply with the restrictions may result in a violation ticket of $1,150.

As of Monday night, the fire was estimated to have burned 14,238 hectares.

Fire behaviour remained fairly low due to lessening winds and the cooler temperatures from smoke blocking the sun.

Crews are focusing on establishing and reinforcing containment lines in priority areas.

On the north flank, firefighters are attempting to shift the wildfire upslope into the alpine and away from the community.

Evacuation orders remain in place for the vicinity of the fire.



B.C. tech sector urges massive rethink of provincial economy

Tech sector urges big rethink

Lumber, mining, fishing.

Ask someone on the street about B.C.’s traditional economy and at least one of those sectors is bound to come up.

But the B.C. tech sector is calling for a major rethink of how the economy is measured moving forward if the province means to stay competitive, according to a report released Monday.

Rather than focusing on tangible goods — an ever-decreasing component of the economy, according to data in the report — the BC Tech Association is urging the provincial and federal governments to adopt three priorities when embracing the shift to more intangible assets within the economy:

1) Improving collection of data to better identify economic drivers

2) Embracing tech and innovation as a critical driver of the economy

3) Increasing access to skills training and investments in the infrastructure of the service-based economy

The report points to how GDP has been used as the traditional means of measuring the economy — that is, via the tangible exchange of goods and resources.

“B.C. cannot afford to allow 20th century economic thinking to guide 21st century decisions,” the report states.

Citing data from Statistics Canada, the authors point to the fact that in 2019 more than 76% of the province’s GDP came from services while the goods-producing sectors accounted for the remainder.

“The tech sector is difficult to properly quantify as its activity is included in multiple categories,” the report states, referring to the buckets in which StatsCan divides the economy such as finance and insurance; information and cultural services; and educational services.

“However, we can assume that tech sector growth explains in large part the growth in professional, scientific and technical services, which has grown from about 5.5% of GDP to almost 7% in the last 10 years.”

The report in turn notes declines in buckets such as manufacturing; agriculture, fishing, forestry and hunting; and mining, quarrying, and oil and gas.

Again, citing StatsCan data, the report points to how over the last two decades service-producing sectors have averaged around 80% of the jobs in the economy, while goods-producing sectors have averaged about 20%.

"Other jurisdictions around the world are recognizing the fundamental shifts taking place and are making changes to remain economically competitive. As we emerge from COVID and start to think about economic recovery, we need to make an honest assessment of where our sustainable strengths lie and how we can build a more inclusive, innovative and resilient economy in B.C.," BC Tech CEO Jill Tipping said in a statement.



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Vancouver’s sewage fentanyl load extremely high: Statistics Canada

More drugs in wastewater

Levels of illicit drugs entering sewage streams have risen in five major Canadian cities, including Vancouver, since the COVID-19 pandemic’s start, Statistics Canada reports.

The analysis indicates different cities have distinct drug use profiles and Vancouver showed per-capita fentanyl loads more than four times higher than in any other city.

The agency also said results signal an increase in drug consumption, which may be a contributing factor to the increase in overdose-related deaths.

“Of the 14 drugs measured, the levels of cannabis, fentanyl and methamphetamine were found to have significantly increased early in the pandemic” the Canadian Wastewater Survey (CWS) report released July 26 said of samples collected from March to July 2019 and from January to July 2020.

In April 2020, the load of cannabis metabolite in wastewater was 28% higher than in March 2020. On average, wastewater loads of fentanyl in April 2020 were similar to those observed in the months preceding the pandemic, but were almost twice as high in May, and close to three times higher in June and July, Statistics Canada said.

2020 was B.C.’s worst year for illicit drug deaths, with 1,726 deaths. The highest number previously was in 2018, with 1,549 deaths. By April 2018, 535 people died, down from 555 in April of 2017, a year which saw 1,493 fatalities.

2021 is on track to be another year of tragic fatalities.

Statistics Canada said the wastewater information gathered in the CWS will help decision makers with public health strategies and allow public health authorities, law enforcement agencies and other organizations to target their approach in the overdose crisis.

The CWS has been testing wastewater samples from wastewater treatment plants in Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver since March 2019.

Analyses produce estimates of the amount of a given drug metabolite, a chemical made when the body breaks down a drug, entering the wastewater system, which is generally expected to reflect the overall quantity of the drug consumed by the population within a given area.

Moreover, the results support earlier findings of pandemic drug use.

Statistics Canada found more than one-third of those who had previously consumed cannabis reported that their consumption increased during the pandemic.

Furthermore, Statistics Canada said, using data from provincial and territorial chief coroners and chief medical examiners, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that apparent opioid-related deaths—the majority of which involved non-pharmaceutical fentanyl—were at their highest from April to September 2020, following the introduction of COVID-19 prevention measures.



Fairy Creek protesters defend felling small trees in order to impede police

Activists defend felling trees

A protest group is defending the actions of its members who cut down some small trees to impede police enforcing a court injunction against blockades that have been set up to prevent old-growth logging on southern Vancouver Island.

The RCMP said in a news release Saturday that protesters had cut 18 trees with chainsaws and laid the trunks across a road in the Fairy Creek watershed area.

The group, dubbed the Rainforest Flying Squad, responded in a statement on Monday, saying its members cut the small, second-growth trees in order to slow police progress in reaching other protesters who were chained to structures.

They say Pacheedaht First Nation elder Bill Jones, who supports the protest group, does not disapprove of their felling of small trees to protect old growth.

A statement from Jones released by the group says it's common practice in logging to cut down young trees growing at the side of roadways and that's not a threat to ecology.

The Rainforest Flying Squad says very little of the best old-growth forest remains in B.C., and the province's temporary deferral of old-growth logging across 2,000 hectares in the Fairy Creek and central Walbran areas falls short of what's needed.

The RCMP have made 494 arrests since they began enforcing the injunction in May.

The protest group also says it instituted a fire-safety protocol last month, instructing its members not to smoke outside of cars and to use hand saws or battery-operated chainsaws when cutting wood. The Mounties' statement on Saturday said a protester was seen smoking a cigarette in dry conditions.



Fires in Western Canada creating own weather systems, experts say

Fires creating own weather

A combination of intense heat and drought conditions is causing wildfires in Western Canada to generate their own weather systems, experts say.

Michael Fromm, a meteorologist with the United States Naval Research Laboratory, said the phenomenon is known as a pyrocumulonimbus firestorm and has been tracked this year in British Columbia, Saskatchewan Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.

Scientists have been tracking the storms since May. The first one was seen this season in Manitoba, Fromm said in an interview Monday.

The Village of Lytton in B.C. saw firestorms on two successive days in late June, he said.

"It was probably the single largest pyrocumulonimbus storm of the year so far," he added.

"In fact, we're still tracking the smoke plume from that storm as it's travelling around the world and it's about to kind of come full circle back over USA and Canada."

An abundance of fuel, heat and wind create perfect conditions for the firestorms.

Lytton hit a Canadian temperature record of 49.6 C the day before a wildfire erupted there, destroying much of the community.

"When you get all those three things together, you get the perfect triple that we call fire weather," Fromm said. "So, hot, dry and windy."

Simon Donner, a climate scientist from the University of British Columbia's geography department, said the storms also generate lightning that cause more fires.

"The fire creates the storm, and then the storm creates lightning, which can cause more fires," he said.

"That runaway feedback is the dangerous part."

Above average temperatures for many parts of B.C. aren't expected to ease soon. Environment Canada said there is no hint of showers until at least the weekend for some southern regions that have been hit hard by wildfires.

Emergency Management BC said more than 250 active wildfires were burning in B.C. on Monday afternoon. Since the fire season began April 1, 4,142 square kilometres of land has been charred from the 1,216 wildfires that had started as of Sunday night.

At that time, there were 58 evacuation orders in effect, which affected 4,260 properties. Another 83 evacuation alerts were in place, meaning people living at more than 17,500 properties had been told they should be ready to leave their homes on short notice.

The risk remained high to extreme over most of southern B.C. on Monday. The B.C. Wildfire Service said 40 blazes were ranked as fires of note, meaning the flames were either highly visible or posed an immediate safety risk.

B.C. is to get more help Tuesday in battling the fires, with 34 Australian firefighting personnel joining 113 from Quebec and 101 from Mexico.

The Australian contingent includes a nine-person incident management team and technical specialists.

The weather office is predicting lighter winds over several of the most challenging fires, including the 68-square kilometre Nk'Mip Creek blaze in the south Okanagan between Oliver and Osoyoos. But forecasters said temperatures there won't budge from the mid- to high-30s all week, and there's no sign of rain.

Showers could dampen parts of southeast B.C., where fires on both sides of Upper Arrow Lake have forced evacuation orders or alerts for hundreds of properties.

However, Environment Canada said the chance of rain is just 30 per cent and it won't come until Saturday at the earliest.

Fromm said a pyrocumulonimbus storm usually begins with a smouldering fire, which feeds on the surrounding air turning active and creating a thermal bubble. That creates a convection column that generates more energy and turns the fire hotter and larger, he said.

"It's just like if you have a stove and you have a small burner — you're not going to get as much of a fast boil in your pot as if you had a really hot, intense burner," Fromm said.

"So, the big, large fire just makes it that much easier for the air to be completely upset. And then if you do form a cloud, then that generates even more buoyancy and that feeds back down to the fire."

As the cloud goes "bubbling" into the air, it can create lightning, Fromm said.

The storms last anywhere between two and five hours, occur in the late afternoon, and end when the air turns cooler or it runs into a fire break, he said.

"When you look at it, you know, say from space as we do, you can actually see several bubbles of cloud form and flatten out up in the upper atmosphere," he said.

"Then they blow off and then you see another bubble coming up, like several chimney bursts in the life of that individual pyrocumulonimbus. So, on the ground, what that means is that fire is pulsating in a way that during those two to five hours is a very dramatic and dangerous event."



BC announces 267 new coronavirus cases; 155 in Interior Health

267 new cases, one death

The provincial government has announced 267 new coronavirus cases, including 155 in the Interior Health, over the past three days.

The new cases bring B.C.’s total since the pandemic began to 149,109 cases, although just 695 remain active. Of the active cases, 43 individuals are in hospital and 17 are in intensive care.

With the majority of the cases over the weekend coming in the BC Interior, the region now has the most active COVID-19 cases in the province, by far, at 342.

The new cases were confirmed over the weekend as follows:

  • July 23-24: 94 new cases
  • July 24-25: 79 new cases
  • July 25-26: 94 new cases

One new death was reported over the weekend, in the Northern Health region.

As of Monday, July 26, 2021, 80.6 per cent of eligible people 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 61.3 per cent have received their second dose.

The new/active cases include:

48 new cases in Fraser Health — Total active cases: 185

41 new cases in Vancouver Coastal Health — Total active cases: 118

155 new cases in Interior Health — Total active cases: 342

Five new cases in Northern Health — Total active cases: 14

18 new cases in Island Health — Total active cases: 32



Australian firefighters arriving in B.C. this week

Australia sends firefighters

More international help is arriving on the frontlines of wildfires across B.C.

Thirty-four Australian firefighters are landing in Vancouver on Tuesday evening. Included in the contingent is a nine-person incident management team and various specialized operational leadership roles, such as task force leaders, divisional supervisors and technical specialists.

After being briefed upon arrival, they will be assigned to fires under the direction of the BC Wildfire Service.

"Australia and Canada have a long history of helping each other out when wildfire activity is high," said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. "During this extremely challenging fire season, we greatly appreciate the support we're receiving from Canadian provinces, the federal government and our partners abroad."

Strict COVID-19 protocols will be in place for the Australian personnel coming to B.C. They will live and work in operational "bubbles" apart from other firefighting personnel to minimize COVID-19 risks. They will also remain in their own bubbles when away from the fire line.

The Australians are joining hundreds of other out-of-province personnel who are working on B.C. wildfires, including 113 from Quebec who arrived on July 23 and 101 Mexicans who arrived on July 24.

Out-of-province firefighting personnel who will be in British Columbia as of Tuesday, July 27, 2021:

  • Australia: 34
  • Mexico: 101
  • Quebec: 134
  • Alberta: 61
  • Nova Scotia: one
  • Parks Canada: 17
  • Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC): one
  • Canadian Armed Forces: approximately 90 as of July 23 (increasing to 250 by July 28)

As of July 26, there are 3,558 people involved in firefighting operations in B.C., including 1,252 contractors.



B.C. public health order places moratorium on new mink farms due to COVID-19

Moratorium on mink farms

British Columbia has placed a moratorium on new mink farms and capped existing farms at their current numbers after two more of the animals tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Agriculture Ministry says each farm is required to report the total number of mink to the provincial health officer and the medical health officer in their regional health authority.

The new provincial health order comes after two mink tested positive for the virus on a farm that's been under quarantine and samples from five more of the animals from the same farm tested positive at B.C.'s animal health lab with final results pending from a national lab in Winnipeg.

It says the mink that tested positive were identified through a provincial surveillance project that aims to assess the potential for virus transmission to "free-ranging" animals.

The ministry says in a statement that in this instance, four mink had escaped their cages and were captured on the farm.

It says the province is reviewing its policies related to fur farms while ensuring biosecurity measures are in place to protect both the public and animal health.

Three out of nine mink farms in B.C. have seen mink test positive for the virus since last December, the ministry says. The farms remain under quarantine, with no mink being moved to or from the properties, which are all located in the Fraser Valley.



Michaud Creek fire grows to 5,981 hectares, smoke limits air support

Smoke still limiting visibility

The Michaud Creek wildfire south of Edgewood has seen some overnight growth and is now estimated to be 5,981 hectares in size.

As of midday Monday, the fire remained south of Johnson Creek and continued to hold at established control lines and an old burn.

The BC Wildfire Service says fire behaviour remains fairly low due to lessening winds and cooler temperatures from smoke that is blocking the sun.

Heavy smoke continues limit visibility for air support operations. Air tankers and helicopters plan to return to work as soon as visibility is clear and it is safe to do so.

There are 41 firefighters, one helicopter and 20 pieces of heavy equipment attacking the blaze.

Crews continue to focus on establishing and reinforcing containment lines in priority areas, to limit growth to the north/northwest.

“The containment lines are built using dozers to remove the burnable vegetation, hand tools where heavy equipment cannot access or crews may conduct planned ignition when possible,” the BCWS says.

A 15-person Incident Management Team from Alberta has arrived to manage the fire, along with the Octopus Creek and Renata Creek fires, as part of the Arrow Lake Complex.



Octopus wildfire near Fauquier grows to 14,238 hectares, smoke causing low visibility

Octopus fire at 14,238 ha

The Octopus Creek wildfire burning south of Fauquier has grown to an estimated 14,238 hectares in size.

The BC Wildfire Service says fire behaviour remains fairly low due to lessening winds and cooler temperatures due to heavy smoke, which is blocking the sun.

However, the wildfire service advises that conditions could change rapidly and fire behaviour could increase suddenly.

Smoke from the blaze is impeding air support operations, and air attack officers are monitoring the situation, says BCWS.

Airtankers and helicopters plan to return to work as soon as soon as visibility is clear and it is deemed safe to resume operations.



July Mountain wildfire within a kilometre of Coquihalla Highway

Fire nearing Coquihalla

A large wildfire burning off the Coquihalla Highway is within a kilometre of the roadway.

The July Mountain fire is now estimated at 1,700 hectares in size, according to new mapping published by the BC Wildfire Service on Sunday.

“Increased fire activity and growth has been observed in the last 24 hours,” the agency said Sunday night.

The fire has resulted in an evacuation order for 25 properties in the Juliet Drive area north of Coldwater River Provincial Park.

There are now 30 firefighters being supported by three helicopters and two pieces of heavy equipment in battling the fire. Crews have been focusing on the eastern flank of the fire closest to the highway, which remains open under a travel advisory.

The out-of-control wildfire is believed to be caused by lightning.



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